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Friday, November 27, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP - London/Paris 2004 Part 2

UpTake Travel Gem

UPDATED:  Photos we thought were lost forever have been found so please enjoy the following report with newly added photos.

Spring Break in 2004 found us spending a week in London with a side trip to Paris.  Part 1 of this report found us on the trail of Jack the Ripper and riding high into the sky on the Eye.


Today, we're going to visit the British Museum. There are no accessible Tube stations in that area. I'm sure we can find an accessible bus route there but today I pop for a taxi. It costs £11 as opposed to the £3 a bus ride would have cost but it was more comfortable and faster. Incidentally, it is extremely easy to find an accessible cab in London. Since 1986, it's been mandatory that all new cabs are accessible. A few older cabs are still on the road, but newer accessible cabs abound. Just flag one down, no need to call ahead or pay extra. There's plenty of head room, wide doors, and ramps.

We get there about 45 minutes before the museum opens so we have a decent breakfast at a café across the street.

There is an accessible entrance on the opposite end of the building from the main entrance. You will find a lift there to take you to any floor of the museum. Admission is free for everybody…one of England's biggest bargains.

In the middle is a great rotunda…the Great Court…a bright space with a reading room, snack bar, and several gift shops. From this central location, you can visit many galleries to each side.

We visit the Greek wing and see a reconstructed temple and the famous Elgin Marbles. These are the statues that would adorn the Parthenon in Athens except that the British got 'em, took 'em home, and put 'em on display here. They are stunning. There is also the controversy because Greece wants them back while the British say they are more capable of preserving them.

Mummies at the British Museum

Upstairs in the Egypt wing, we see many mummies. Below, on the ground floor, we get a close-up view of the Rosetta Stone - the historic find that was the key to unlocking the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

After leaving the museum, it's a walk through Soho and the West End doing a little souvenir shopping along the way before ending up in Piccadilly Circus. Called the Times Square of London - with it's bright, flashing, animated billboards - the comparison is apt.
About two blocks away is Leicester Square where we have coffe and ice cream overlooking the pretty area.

After this light lunch or snack, we head over to Her Majesty's Theatre and take in the matinee of Phantom of the Opera. Wheelchairs sit 19 rows back from the stage and pay £21.00. One carer can get in at the same price and everybody else pays the full fare of £45.00. Upon arrival, a member of the staff will escort you to the accessible entrance around the corner. There is also a large accessible bathroom near the seats.

The play was great and the staff at the theatre was very helpful. We had seen this play in Los Angeles several years ago…although this was Tim's first time…and noted that the London production included a few more scenes that weren't in the L.A. edition.

After the play, we went to a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant called the Texas Embassy and had dinner. Tim decided to take advantage of English beer laws by ordering a Corona with his meal. In English restaurants (not bars or pubs), the age for drinking beer is 16 when accompanied by parents. Tim is was 17. Even though, we limited him to the one beer.

Enjoying the Brews at the Texas Embassy

The alarm went off at 4:45 this morning. This wasn't a mistake but it sure seemed like it at the time. No, we'd planned this because we had a 6:30 train to catch. Over at Waterloo station, we boarded the Eurostar to make the two and a half hour journey under the English channel over to Paris. This would be the first of our two day trips out of London.

The staff at the Eurostar station were efficient if a bit snippy at this early hour. A ramp was
employed to get the wheelchair on the train. Here's another perk of using a wheelchair: Wheelchairs can only fit in the First Class car. So, for an economy fare of £104 round trip, you can ride in the lap of luxury while attendants bring you meals and drinks to your seat. One companion can ride for the same price. Any more than that pays full fare. A non-refundable, non-exchangeable, 21-day advance purchase round-trip First Class fare runs £165 and goes up from there (you can also ride in economy for about half that and meet up with your party at the terminus).

Boarding the Eurostar

After leaving London, the train gets up to its 186 mph cruising speed and the scenery starts to whiz by. This morning, there is a heavy fog and not much to see as we enter the tunnel. Twenty minutes and 31 miles later, we emerge and are still in fog.

The fog lifts before we hit Paris but the outskirts could use a heavy veil to hide them. A shanty town, piles of trash, and more graffiti than I've seen in New York or Los Angeles combined greet us as we roll into the station. It's not what I expected to see but thankfully it only gets better.

From the Gare du Nord station in Paris, we want to take the RER to the Chatalet station. Getting to the train is no problem, there is a lift from the main hall down to the platform. Buying tickets with a credit card, for me anyway, proves to be quite a challenge.

I do not have the necessary coinage to buy the tickets from the machine. Even though it says it will take a Visa card, when I try to use it an error comes up saying it will only take American Express, Diner's Club, or Carte Blanche. I go to the ticket window and try to buy the tickets, but my Visa won't work. For some reason, although it worked fine in England and the U.S., my Visa card just won't work anywhere in France…as we were to find out later. I pay with paper currency at the window and get our tickets. Luckily, the woman at the booth spoke just enough English and I could get out just enough French that we were able to complete the transaction.

Tickets in hand, we head down to the platform the "B" line of the RER. The RER is Paris' commuter railroad. Not completely a subway but not a full-size train either. The train arrives and we squeeze on board. It is packed like a New York rush hour and it's a very tight fit.

Luckily, we are only going one stop but somewhere along the way, I do feel fingers in my back pocket. I try to turn around but there are too many people and we're packed too tight to see who it is. Fortunately for me, I keep my wallet in the front pocket. Unfortunately for my would be robber, I only had a used Kleenex in my back pocket…enjoy your loot mon frere!

At the Chatalet station, we transfer to the "A" line of the RER. This involves leaving the station to get to another lift. To leave the station, you have to talk via an intercom to get security to release the exit gate for you. The person that answers doesn't speak a word of English. We finally get the idea and buzz the intercom again and ask "Sortie, s'il vous plaît" (exit, please) and we get buzzed through.

We find the lift and take the RER "A" line two stops to Charles de Gaulle station where we plan on seeing the Arc 'd Triomphe but as we try to leave, we find the lift to the street is under repair with no alternate route available. Okay, so we scratch the Arc off the list and head back to Chatalet.

There, we transfer to the 14 line of the Paris Metro and go two stops to the Pyramides station. The lift out of the station puts us one block away from the Louvre. An hour and a half after arriving in Paris, this is our first view of the center of the city…we'd only seen it underground up until now.

The Musee du Louvre is an immense building that is three blocks long. We enter via the famous pyramid entrance where security takes us out of line and escorts us to the lift. The round lift descends and puts us in the ticket hall where long lines snake up to the many ticket counters spread around the room. An information station in the middle offers brochures designed in several languages that spell out access in the museum.

Another security guard takes us out of the ticket line and escorts us up to the ticket window. Kids under 18, disabled persons, and the unemployed are all entitled to free admission. Adults pay 7.5 Euros.

The museum is very crowded. It is like a holiday in summer at Disneyland. We take in some paintings and sculptures but it begins to dawn on us that we will not have time to see much here so we head over to the Italian masters wing to see the Mona Lisa. Again, there is a huge line spanning down the three block long Grand Gallery but it moves fast and when we get close to the room where it is displayed, security again takes us out of the line and escorts us right up to the front where we are invited to view the painting at our leisure.

It is a bit of a thrill to see such a famous painting but I must say, I don't get all the fuss. I know there's a lot of mystery behind the painting…is it actually a self-portrait? Da Vinci's mistress? What about that smile? Notice how the eyes follow you?…but to me, there are clearly more beautiful and compelling works of art in this building.

The crowds really wear down on Tim and we only have the day, so we take our leave of the Louvre and continue on. By the way, the bathrooms on the ticket hall level next to the lifts are the least crowded and accessible toilets here. They are also kept very clean. Probably because they are well hidden.

Paris Scenes. Notice the Queue in the Upper Left Waiting to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre

It's time to head across the Seine to the Left Bank and we wander along the narrow streets looking at the shops, bakeries, and restaurants. Being in Paris, we must splurge on a good French meal.

We end up at the Café Le Saint Germain where we sat at a small table on the sidewalk. It was too small to sit inside but the day was nice so it worked out well.

The waiter suggested a veal special which my wife ordered. Tim had a roast chicken dish with fries while I had a duck braised in its own fat with sautéed potatoes. One word…delicious! We shared the three plates. All were very good with the top marks going to the veal. The sautéed potatoes were like little puffy pillows with just enough garlic on them…the best garlic fries I've ever had (and I've had some of the best). A bottle of nice red Bordeaux helped to wash it down. My wife talked me out of staying for dessert. I really wanted to try the caramel crepes offered, but she wanted to find a little bakery to try.

A little walk later, we found our little bakery. It was good, but not spectacularly so. I shoulda held out for those crepes!

Finally, we come out from the buildings and into the park that houses the Eiffel Tower. So much has been said about it that I'll limit it to the fact that it is really beautiful and really big. Unfortunately, today's security concerns limit wheelchair users to the second level…about a third of the way up.

We find a wheelchair accessible bus that goes back to Notre Dame and we take the RER from there back to Gare du Nord and board the Eurostar for the trip back.

A couple of notes about Paris. We've all heard about the typical arrogant French person who looks with disdain down their nose at English speaking Americans. With one limited exception (one of the bartenders at the Eurostar boarding lounge), I found every French person I came across that day to be friendly, gracious, and as helpful as they could be. The stereotype could not be more wrong as far as I'm concerned.

This is not to say Paris is all it's made up to be. We were a bit disappointed by the crowds and general cleanliness and it just didn't register with us as such a magnificent city, but the people there were just fine.

Accessible transportation in Paris is much better than I thought it would be. Although there are few accessible RER and Metro stations, those few stations are located at key points. There are many, many wheelchair accessible buses here and maps at each stop. Look for the international wheelchair symbol next to the route number. Be forewarned, however, that the driver must close all doors before deploying the ramp. It may look like he's going to leave you in the lurch, but once those doors are closed, the ramp will come out, the doors will reopen, and you can then board. There are no tie-downs on Parisian (or London) buses.


Another train ride. Fortunately, we don't have to get up in the wee hours. We catch a taxi over to Paddington Station and board our train over to Bath…a quick 90 minute ride away on the 125 mph train.

A note about British trains and wheelchairs. You are required to book a reservation for your wheelchair at least 24 hours in advance or be at the mercy of station staff with help boarding the train. What you need to do is go to the ticket window of National Rail at any train station and buy your tickets more than 24 hours in advance. Then go to the Station Reception (every station has one, just ask where it is) and have them reserve space for you on every leg of your train journey.

I tell you this because it almost proved disastrous to us. We went to the Station Reception at Waterloo and the lady booked us to Bath but said we'd have to book passage back once we got there. On arrival at Bath, we were told since we didn't book passage back at least 24 hours in advance, we were screwed. I explained what happened and was told to try with the platform boss when we wanted to return. I was told I probably wouldn't get on the train with the wheelchair…luckily, the platform gentleman was more understanding and helped us with a ramp.

Okay, enough of our troubles…on to Bath!

On arrival, we pick up a town map in the station. The station is centrally located and we will not get farther that five or six blocks away the entire day. First order of business is to get lunch. I had wanted to go to the Pump Room located at the Roman Bath but it would be a good 90 minutes before we could get fed there, so we wandered around to see what else we could find.

On the back side of the bath, in a small lane, we found a hole-in-the-wall called Café du Globe which had a two-course lunch special for £7.00. For me, it was a delicious tomato herb soup followed by panzarotti filled with ham and spinach and covered with a delicious tomato and melted cheese sauce. Tim had bacon and cheese jacket potatoes (potato skins) with a lasagna and my wife had a salad with salmon. All were very delicious and the price was reasonable. Plus, the wheelchair fit inside and the table was big enough for all of us.

After lunch we head over to the Roman Bath. The Romans discovered this hot spring in 43 A.D. and built a public bath. In the 19th century, the ruins were unearthed and the bath restored. The public can no longer swim in it (a modern facility where you can has opened across the street) but you can still visit the ruins, which are 20 feet below the level of the ground.

At the Roman Baths
This brings bad news/good news for access. The bad news is that the stairs to the bottom will not allow you up to the edge of the pool. The good news is that you can still see everything from the accessible terrace above. To compensate, the wheelchair user and their party are admitted free and even given portable audio tour units to use at no charge.

The bath itself is pretty remarkable and the tour very interesting. Afterward, we decide to explore the town.

Bath is a beautiful town with many nooks, corners, and alleys full of interesting shops, pubs, and places to eat. We pick up many souvenirs here and walk along the river with its stunning views of Bath Abbey. Several shopping lanes remind us of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter with their narrow walkways and quaint storefronts. The local market offers many items such as packets of cheese and smoked bacon for 40 to 80 pence per package.

We end our day here with a plate of chips and a few ales at one of the local pubs. The train back is full so the conductor on board bumps us up to first class for the journey back.


This is our last full day here so we decide to clean up some loose ends close to the hotel so we don't wear ourselves out.

We start out by walking across Westminster Bridge and seeing the Cabinet War Rooms. This fascinating tour takes you underground to see the bunkers where Winston Churchill and his staff planned the fighting in World War II while hiding from the German bombs raining down on the city. A lift takes you down and an audio tour guides you through. It's a bit cramped and
claustrophobic but gives you a real good feel of what is must have been like to be hunkered down here.

Rooms on display include the map room (left just as it was the last day), Churchill's bedroom, communications room, staff quarters, and even the tiny kitchen and dining room. It's well worth the £7.00 admission (disabled and one carer free).

Directly across the street is St. James park, the flowered and beautiful front yard for the Queen's house. We start to stroll through the park and I open my guidebook to read about it. I notice that in 25 minutes, the changing of the guard will take place at the other end of the park , Buckingham Palace.

Stepping up the pace, we make it to the other end of the park just in time to squeeze in with the crowd to see the short parade of the guards and their band as they march over from their barracks to relieve their comrades at the palace.

Afterward, we walk back through the park towards Westminster Abbey. Along the way, we find Bruno's, a café in the St. James Park tube station, that serves delicious panini sandwiches and pasta. Their pasta carbonara is among the best I've had and a bargain at £4.

After lunch, we tour Westminster Abbey. Again, disabled plus one carer gets in gratis but inside very few of the side chapels are accessible. Still, you get a close up view of royal graves such as Edward II and Richard III. Charles Darwin is buried here along with Sir Isaac Newton. In poet's corner, Lord Byron rests with his colleagues. Nearby, a gentleman who lived over 150 years is buried.

The tombs can be very ornate or very simple. The abbey is very big inside and ornate. This is really a must see when you're here.

We head back across the Thames and take a quick bathroom break at the hotel. Across the street is the Imperial War Museum. There is a stunning and important - if very depressing - holocaust exhibit here. Wheelchair users can't help but gasp as the first exhibit explains how the Nazis started by exterminating physical undesirable such as the disabled before moving on to his final solution. Note: this exhibit is not suitable for small children or those easily nauseated.
Admission is free and the museum is completely accessible.

Wanting to stock up on some last minute souvenirs, we head to the nearby Elephant and Castle shopping center. This turns out to be a depressingly drab mall and we quickly head back where we have one more delicious pizza dinner at the Bar Room Bar pub.

Tomorrow, we have nothing more to do except pack and ride the tube back to Heathrow to await our eleven hour ride home.

Copyright 2004 - Darryl Musick

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Cheapskate Wine Taster: Free and Cheap Wine Tasting in California's Wine Countries

Time to make a new list. Those of you who know me well know I don't like to throw money away. Maybe 'Cheap' is not quite the right term.  I just like to get my money's worth.

For example, I might think $12 is way too much for a mediocre burger and fries but I don't have a problem spending into the three digits for a spectacularly prepared lunch like we might get at Taste up in the Amador wine country.

That's how it is with California wine tasting...I don't really have a problem with a winery that charges me a small fee, say $5 dollars or so, to taste wine as long as they let me apply it to my purchase.  I do have a problem with the many wineries in this state now charging $15, $20, $25 or more to have just the slightest taste of their product and then have the audacity to tell me I can't apply that to my purchase. 

I've been ranting on that particular subject for years.  Now it's time to fight back.

Lets celebrate the wineries in this state that are not trying to rip you off.  Here's a list that I hope to keep growing of vintners and dealers in the Golden State where you can still taste for free or a token 'money back when you buy' fee.

And, finally, be a good wine these great wineries, and their friendly tasting policies, by buying a bottle or more while you're there.

CUCAMONGA VALLEY (about 40 miles east of Los Angeles)

Galleano Winery, Mira Loma - My favorite Southern California winery. Great wines and a refundable $5 fee for five tastes.  You are free to share, too. Bring a picnic, borrow a couple of glasses and enjoy an al fresco lunch with a great bottle of wine at their lovely, historic, and relaxing picnic area.

Joseph Filippi, Rancho Cucamonga - Same as above. $5 refundable fee for five tastes. Not quite as nice to visit as the Galleano folks but still an historic winery in an area where they hang on by a thread.


San Antonio Winery, Los Angeles (with branches in Ontario and Paso Robles) - $3 for three tastings. More for artisinal wines.


Bogle, Clarksburg - Beautiful winery with some outstanding wines. Another great picnic destination in the Sacramento River delta. Free tasting.

Delicato, Manteca - Large winery right next to Highway 99, can't miss it. Free.


Heitz Cellar, St. Helena - Free.

Mason Cellars, Napa - Lower priced Napa Valley wines and free tasting.

Sutter Home, St. Helena - Bargain label run by the Trinchero family in the heart of the valley. Free, extra charge for library wines.


Amador 360, Plymouth - a wine collective, featuring local wines from winemakers too small to have tasting rooms. $5 tasting fee, refundable.

Drytown Cellars, Drytown - Small winery with very good wines and two friendly, the other sometimes grumply. Free

Sobon/ Shenandoah Wineries, Plymouth - Two wineries, one tasting. Sobon is also the oldest, continuously operating winery in the state.

Story Winery, Plymouth - Our favorite winery in the world. Awesome wines, best picnic area anywhere, great and friendly staff. Free.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 23, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP - London/Paris 2004 Part 1

UPDATED:  Photos we thought were lost forever have been found so please enjoy the following report with newly added photos.

Although we've now been to London a few times...including when the underground was had to start somewhere.  Back when Tim was in high school, we thought that Spring Break would be the perfect time to get our feet wet with some overseas travel.  Come along with us as we make our very first trip to London and Europe.

We had always wanted to range out from the North American continent but were hesitant because of accessibility. Even Canada and Mexico are quite a chore in a wheelchair, what would lands farther away be like?

What Jet Lag looks like...taken about 1/2 hour after our arrival

Finally, we took the gamble and booked airfare and hotel to London. I had read quite a few reports about how inaccessible the public transit was, save the taxis, and how there were not any curb cuts and few accessible buildings. Let me put to rest right here that London is inaccessible. It is very accessible and you shouldn't let a thing like your wheelchair stand between you and a great trip to this beautiful and historic city.

Come along and judge for yourself…


The hardest part about this trip is the flying. From Los Angeles it's a ten hour, nonstop flight…overnight! We chose Virgin Atlantic and paid a $40 premium over such U.S. carriers as American Airlines and United because many people had recommended Virgin to us. British Airways had a lower price but also charged for wheelchairs over 30 lbs. (we originally planned to take the power chair but changed to a manual when Lester Mfg. told us it would cost at least $200 for a voltage transformer that would work with the battery charger). Virgin had no such restrictions.

The seats are your standard small economy seats but the airline did seat us in the bulkhead seats for extra legroom. Virgin also supplies each passenger with a goodie bag that includes a sleep mask, booties, toothbrush & toothpaste, and earphones for the in-flight entertainment (no charge). The in-flight entertainment consists of over 300 hours of movies (all uncut and a range of ratings - parents have the option to lock out the more mature titles from their children), TV shows, documentaries, news, sports, and more. Each seat has its own individual video monitor so everyone gets to watch whatever they want

An on-board aisle chair provides access to the bathroom. On the 747 going over, the only modification was a small aisle in front of the restrooms that could be blocked by curtains. On the Airbus 340 on the way back, a full size accessible toilet was available - the biggest bathroom I've ever seen on a plane.

The plane landed at Heathrow International at 11:45am. A dour immigration official quickly stamped our passports and we were on our way.

Taxi companies wanted to make us take two cabs with the wheelchair and luggage (it's debatable whether we would have fit with our two bags…at least it would have been very tight). The Heathrow Express - a high-speed train between the airport and London - would drop us off on the wrong side of town at Paddington Station. I had booked our hotel, the Days Hotel Waterloo, specifically because it was near an accessible Tube station (Waterloo - 3 blocks), so we took the Tube.

From Heathrow, you buy your ticket and find a station attendant. They are easy to find as they wear bright orange vests. The attendant takes you to a lift where you can descend to the platform. You board a Piccadilly Line train…which has about a 6" step up into it…and change trains at the Green Park Station to the Jubilee Line. The Jubilee Line will take you to Waterloo. Cost was £2.80 compared to £13.00 for the Heathrow Express and approximately £50.00 for a cab ride…double that if you need to take two (on a subsequent trip, when the Underground wasn't working, it cost us the equivalent of $110 to take a cab from the airport - ed).  After a 45 minute ride, we walked out of Waterloo Station and continued on to our hotel.

The Days Hotel is directly across the street from the Imperial War Museum in the Southbank/Lambeth (SE1) area of London. It's centrally located and has a couple of wheelchair accessible bus lines running by it and is a five minute walk from the nearest accessible Tube and train station. It's also within walking distance to Westminster Bridge and the London Eye.

An Overview of Our Hotel and Surroundings (from the London Eye)

There are two fully accessible rooms here (rooms 12 and 14), both on the ground floor, with roll-in showers although the sleeping area is rather small by U.S. standards. Each room will sleep three adults or two adults/two small children. On each floor above there are also larger "family" rooms with just a bit more room that will accommodate a wheelchair but have small, non-roll in, showers. Our rate was £407.25 for the week, or about $740.

We arrived at the hotel around 4pm. Too early for bed, even with our jet lag, so we went for a walk over to the London Eye to get our bearings.

Coming back to the hotel, we went to dinner at the Three Stags pub across the street from the hotel. Our first meal - at least for me - was to be the worst one of the trip. My wife enjoyed her fish sandwich, but the cheeseburger I had there was very bad. The hand-pumped ale was first rate, however. Luckily, the food only got better from here.

We hit the sack around 7:30 to get a good night's rest to start our trip on.


After breakfast, our first attraction was to ride the London Eye. This is (was at the time) the world's largest Ferris wheel with clear, glass capsules that can each hold twenty five people.

Wheelchair riders get a discounted ticket and one person gets to go on free as an attendant (or "carer"). The current cost for adults is £11.50  £18…around $20  £30…yes, things can get very expensive here especially with a weak dollar. Disabled riders are £14.30.  Attendants (or carers as they are known as here) go along for free.  You can get tickets and a time ahead of your ride but it really isn't necessary. We did, when we walked over the night before, but when we came back there was very little in the way of a line and wheelchairs get to skip it anyway. Up to eight wheelchairs are allowed on board the Eye at any given time.

The Eye is completely accessible. The wheel is stopped and a ramp quickly deployed so you can roll right in. The capsule is big enough to roam the entire cabin in your chair.

There is not a hint of a thrill ride at all. The half-hour journey is silky smooth and gives riders a stunning view of London. I recommend you do this first thing as you can easily see where everything is and how far away the sights you want to see are.

You can buy a view guide for £3.00 at the entrance that points out the major landmarks while you're in the air. Two souvenir photos of your party on board cost £10.

After our ride, we walked along the riverwalk with the River Thames along our left side. Not too far afterward, we came along Shakespeare's Old Globe Theatre. This is an exact reproduction of the famous theatre where Shakespeare premiered many of his plays. The original burned down hundreds of years ago and buildings were erected on the original site about a block away (you can take a short walk over and see the circle on the ground that marks the original location of the theatre wall - ask any docent for directions).

American actor Sam Wannamaker came over in the 50's to find the Globe and was dismayed that there was little to mark or commemorate it. He made it his life's work to raise the funds, do the research, and rebuild the Globe.

Today, it stands along the Thames and still puts on performances from May through September. We popped in to take the tour. The cost is £8 10.50 for adults, £6.50 8.50for students…and carers are free!

Our Tourguide at the Globe

Even though it's an as exact replica as could be, the theatre is still accessible. Our tour guide, John Sheppard, takes us into the yard where three balconies overlook the middle ground where the Groundlings would (and still) stand to take in a cheap play. Standing in the open-air middle ground only costs £5 to see a play.

Being Easter, after the Globe we head over to Westminster Abbey. To get there we take the Jubilee Line Tube from London Bridge Station, about two blocks from the Globe, to Westminster Station. Both have lifts with little or no gaps between platform and train. Westminster Abbey is about 200 yards from the station exit.

Touring is strictly forbidden on Sundays here, but we go in for the Easter service. We get to listen to the marvelous pipe organ and hear the beautiful singing of the men's and boys' choir. We were seated right in front, about ten feet from the coronation spot where British royalty have been crowned for centuries. One poor chap behind me happened to open up a tour book and was reprimanded - that's how strict the Sunday tourism prohibition is.

I'm surprised that Tim found it very interesting, usually teenagers aren't thrilled to have to sit through a 70 minute church service. We'll come back later in the week for visiting.

For dinner, we found a very nice pub one block away from the hotel, the Bar Room Bar (or BRB) at the Tankard, which serves delicious wood-fired pizzas along with their ales and lagers. It also had a large, fully accessible bathroom.

Monday, April 12th

Today, we have plans from morning until night!

First, we have a traditional English breakfast of fried eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, and toast at the Waterloo Deli adjacent to Waterloo Station in the Lower Marsh market. The food is good- if a bit fried - and the coffee is like most English coffee…weak. The £3 price is very reasonable considering our hotel charges £6 for the same thing.

We take the tube from Waterloo to London Bridge Station. Cross London Bridge (just a basic bridge nowadays, nothing to write home about) and after a bit of a walk, we end up at the Tower of LondonAgain, we only have to buy two tickets because carers are free. I'm getting used to this! It saves us quite a bit of money with this policy.

After being escorted onto the grounds, we wait inside the gate for a Yeoman Warder led tour…better known as a Beefeater. The tour guide is very professional, knowledgeable, and - best of all - has a great sense of humor.

He is also sensitive to the wheelchair and makes sure Tim is in the front at all times.

First stop is Traitor's Gate where prisoners would come in from the river. We see the ravens and the site of the chopping block where such high-profile prisoners as Anne Boleyn were beheaded…more common prisoners were executed off of the grounds on Tower Hill immediately to the north. After explanations of all the buildings on the grounds, the tour ends in the chapel and we're sent off to the building next door to see the crown jewels.

The World on Wheels Crew at the Tower of London

There is quite a queue to get through but the jewels are pretty spectacular.

Next, we walk across the famous Tower Bridge (the one most people think of as London Bridge) and have lunch at a hot dog stand along the riverwalk. As with the burgers here, Londoners need to go a long way to make hot dogs as good as the U.S.

The afternoon is spent resting off our jet lag and in the evening we return to the tower. This time we take the Jubilee Line to Canada Water Station, transfer to the Docklands Light Railway, and take that to Tower Hill Station. It's an accessible route but we probably could have just taken an accessible bus line to get here quicker.

Dinner is at the Liberty Bounds pub across the street to the north of the Tower of London. We have a steak pie and fish and chips. Both are good but the pie is very heavy and we're only able to get about half of it down.

Afterward, we head across the street to the exit of the Tower Hill Tube station. We meet up with our Original London Walks tour guide, Donald Rumbelow. People come from all over the world to take a walk with Don because he spent 30 years in the City of London Police Force and became the world's foremost expert on the London serial killer commonly known as Jack the Ripper.

On the Trail of Jack the Ripper with Donald Rumbelow

As the light of day fades, Don leads the pack of walkers (and one wheelchair) off into the dark streets of Whitechapel where the murders occurred in the 19th century. Although much has changed, a good portion of the area looks as it did at that time including the Ten Bells pub where the prostitutes hung out. The Ten Bells is still in business today.

Don tells of how the investigation was seriously botched by departmental rivalry. The City of London and Scotland Yard had competing jurisdictions. With the boundary line running through Whitechapel, the killer worked both sides and police didn't cooperate with each other…to the point where evidence was destroyed or ignored.

He points out the locations where the five victims were found and he dispels the myth of the happy, attractive London prostitutes as portayed in the movies. A vivid picture of 19th century London emerges during the two hour tour.

It's a lurid, graphically described tour through some haunting streets. It's also a lot of fun. I have to say that, like at the Tower, Mr. Rumbelow took great care in seeing that Tim in his chair had a front row seat the entire tour.

When it's over, we find an accessible bus route that takes us back to our hotel.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and Paris!

Copyright 2004 - Darryl Musick

Sunday, November 22, 2015


A classic drink from the Prohibition era, the Bolo.

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Here is the recipe...


3 oz. light rum
1 oz. lime juice
2 oz. orange juice
4 dashes of bitters

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker half full of ice. Shake and strain into two cocktail glasses.



Friday, November 20, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP - Elk, California (Mendocino Coast) 2000

Our destination tonight is the tiny village of Elk located half way between Mendocino and Point Arena.  The drive would be from Redding through Ukiah and then over the coastal mountains to Elk. Along the way we would first make a stop for the kid in Clear Lake.

What Tim wanted that day was to spend a refreshing afternoon at Outrageous Waters, a small water park. This we did and it was a lot of fun floating around the lazy river all afternoon in our inner tubes. Unfortunately for a kid in a wheelchair, that is the only attraction there he could go on. So we went around on the lazy river...and around and around and around......

Back on the road, we circled Clear Lake and I missed our exit. Soon, we were back on track and found the road over to Boonville from Ukiah. 16 miles of some of the windiest road we’ve come across. Once in Boonville, the map showed one more road over to Elk. 18 more miles of very windy road. That last 18 miles took over an hour.

While the drive is difficult, it provides a formidable barrier to keep the rest of civilization at bay from Elk. It is a beautiful isolation that’s imposed on this rugged section of coast.

The sign says the population is 250 but that may be an optimistically high number. Tim and I easily walked from one end of town to other in 5 minutes.

We stayed at the Griffin House Bed and Breakfast. Accessibility here is compromised for price. The wheelchair could get around the little cabins without too much difficulty but the big old antique clawfoot bathtubs present quite a challenge for a disabled person to get into, even with help. Even able-bodied persons such as my wife and myself had trouble with the tubs, mainly because they were...just...too...big! Once in, however, the shower head is on a hose.

There are no grab bars in the bathrooms but there is a common accessible restroom up towards the front behind the pub.

There are rooms with more accessibility in Elk but tip the scales in price. The Griffin House is among the lowest priced accommodations here, is very luxurious, has a prime cliff top location, and includes a very sumptuous breakfast delivered to your cabin each morning. The cabins themselves include two rooms so parents and kids can be separated at bedtime.

The little Bridget Dolan’s pub at the front of the inn provides the town’s sole means of night life. It’s a warm cozy place where you can wrap yourself around your favorite drink and chat with the locals, read a book or play a game. The Greenwood Pier, next door provides a nice dinner house but, maybe it was just the day we were there, there were many flies buzzing around inside.
Blackberries Ready to be Picked
At the south end of town, and accessible path provides access to the small beach at the base of the cliffs. Wild blackberries abound in the town providing instant snacks.

A half hour drive in either direction on Highway 1 will bring you to more civilized climes. North will take you to Mendocino. This New England style town hosts many boutique shops and restaurants. Our highlight here was the Mendocino Botanical Gardens a little farther north in Fort Bragg.
The gardens consists of hundreds of acres of unique microclimates and plantings. Miles of wheelchair accessible trails wind their way through the forests, creeks, and flowers ending up at the spectacular bluffs overlooking the sea.

Driving south will take you to the quaint little town of Point Arena. Here you can have a nice dinner overlooking the small century old wharf. After dinner take in a movie at Point Arena’s oustandingly restored theater. This old-style single screen theater will take you back to those great movie houses of your youth while perplexing the youngsters who can’t imagine a theater with only one screen.

No front row stadium seating worries here either. Perfect wheelchair seating locations were built in with the restoration near the center-rear of the theater.

Back in Elk, our main activity was just to relax, sit on the edge of the cliffs with a warm drink in our hand and marvel at the views. You can’t help but to just sit back and take it easy here...cell phones and pagers just won’t work on this isolated stretch of coast.

In short, if you’re just worn out from civilization or just really, really want to get away from it all without traveling halfway around the world, the natural beauty and isolation of this part of the Northern California coast may be just the ticket.

© 2000 Darryl Musick

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ojai, California


It’s a bit warm, dusty, and the bees are swarming around the rosemary.  A couple of friendly dogs wander around, a weimaraner and one of indeterminate lineage, as Ron Asquith leads a tour into a nearby olive grove.
After turning off of the highway; onto a side road; onto another smaller road; fording a creek in our car; and then up the final dirt road; Letty and I decide to skip the tour and head into the Quonset hut that serves as the Ojai Olive Oil Company’s production facility and tiny tasting room…

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From Los Angeles, Ojai is a 90 minute drive away, tucked about a dozen miles up the hill behind the coastal town of Ventura.  If you’d like to skip the drive, AMTRAK can take you from L.A. to Ventura.  From the train station, you can catch the SCAT line 16 bus which will take you up to Ojai.  A local  trolley can get you around town. The entire route is wheelchair accessible.

Our trip was a driving trip.  While Tim spends the night with his uncles, Letty and I are having an anniversary getaway.
It’s still early when we arrive, so a side trip to the olive farm at Ojai Olive Oil is in order.
Ron’s wife, Alice, mans the counter inside and chops up bread cubes. 
Stabbing a cube with a toothpick, we dip it into the first of the oils.  The extra virgin oil tastes a bit grassy…I don’t know if that is how it’s supposed to taste, but not one I particularly enjoy.  Better are some other oils down the line that exude a pepperiness, one that is infused with basil, and another tinged with garlic.
Also on sale here are a range of Balsamic vinegars imported from Italy.  While most of the tasters in the room are wild for the peach flavored vinegar, I’m partial to just the plain variety.
We pick up a few bottles and pay.  Outside, up against the rocky hillside, is a great picnic area.  Up above, one might see a giant bird flying in the distance if they’re lucky.  Nearby is the habitat of the extremely endangered California Condor, one of the largest birds in the world.  Saved from the absolute brink of extinction, they are gradually being re-introduced in the wild here.  We’re not lucky today and have no food for a picnic so we make our way back down the hill to Highway 33.
Once back at the road, a quick couple of blocks takes us to Boccali’s, a roadside Italian restaurant just outside of town.  There’s a quaint, roadhouse feel to the place with its lively patio, large lawn area (closed today), and small dining room out in the country.  At this cash-only restaurant, we just have a salad, some bread, and a glass of beer from their tap.
The pizzas and sandwiches looked delicious, but we’re also saving room for a good dinner later.
After lunch, we figure it’s time to check in now.  Our lodging would be at Casa Ojai, just east of downtown.  Although the outside looks pretty generic, the room is a bit beyond that with a very comfortable king size bed, a nice sized living area off to the side with love seat and coffee table, flat screen TV, small refrigerator, and a large closet area.
Casa Ojai makes it known that they are the “greenest” hotel in town.  That means various things are done to reduce waste and the hotel’s carbon footprint such as using saltwater in pool & spa, putting recycling bins in each room along with the trash cans, using low flow shower heads, low flush toilets, and putting all soaps, shampoos, and lotions into wall-mounted dispensers instead of little, plastic bottles on the counter.  Even the coffee mugs are ceramic to eliminate Styrofoam cups.
We’re traveling without Tim so our room is a non-accessible, second floor room with an amazing view to the east.  Two barrier-free rooms are available with roll-in showers, one with a king bed and the other with two queen size beds.
After check-in, we go over to the small downtown area to do some shopping.  Not a lot of bargains to be had here but Rains, an actual old-town, independent upscale department store, is a great place to browse around.  It’s kind of amazing that it still exists in this world of big mergers and disappearing stores.
After parking back at the hotel, we walk a couple of blocks to the Ojai Beverage Company where wine and beer tasting are offered for a nominal fee.  The store has a huge selection of wines, beers, and liquor.  We get a couple of Belgian-style sour ales and a regular Belgian tripel to take back to the hotel where we enjoy them while swimming a sunning by the pool.
For dinner, we go back into downtown and get a window table at Azu, a Mediterranean-influenced bistro serving tapas and entrees.
Starting off with a great salad and creamy tomato soup, we get three tapas to share…a crawfish dish that was on special that night, lamb kababs, and a chile relleno.  I have to note that it was all delicious and the relleno the star of the show.  It was not like a Mexican relleno with the thick batter and sauce, but more European in the lightness of taste and the tomato based sauce it was served with.  It was incredibly good, different, and the pepper was spicy.  The ingredients only served to enhance the natural flavor of the chile.
After a good night’s sleep on the very comfortable bed, we head to the west side of town and have breakfast at Egg’s ‘n Things.  This is the Ojai branch of a small, Ventura based chain.  After ordering our food, the server pops a couple of crepes on the table.
“This is your complimentary Swedish pancake while you wait for your food,” she says.
It’s perfect with the buttery crepe, sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with a dollop of jelly.  Breakfast arrives and we have a little feast with omelets, pancakes, biscuits, and bacon.  Not a bad thing on the table.
After eating, it’s a stop at the local farmer’s market, held each Sunday morning behind Rain’s.  We pick up some tangerines and sample some great oranges…this is citrus country and this is the season.  We also meet some orchid growers that worked at the same nursery we did many years ago and pick up a plant for my wife’s mom.
We check out, and head home via the back road…a continuation of Highway 33 through Santa Paula and Fillmore.  Numerous fruit stands line the road, beckoning us to sample their citrus.  We stop at one and buy some of the tastiest navel oranges I’ve had in years.
With that, and a toast with one of our newly purchase oranges, we say goodbye to another quick trip and head back down Interstate 5 into Los Angeles and then home.

Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved